It’s approximately a month before the Charlotte Hornets start training camp at Spectrum Center and the roster is probably set going into the 2017-18 preseason.
The Hornets filled their last expressed need – a third point guard – with the signing of veteran Julyan Stone last week. That makes 14 guaranteed contracts, and the Hornets are close to the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold for next season (approximately $119 million for each team). It’s unlikely the Hornets become a tax-paying team.
The NBA maximum for roster spots is 15 per team, plus two two-way contracts for players who will spend most of the season with the G-League Greensboro Swarm. Former North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige and former Louisville big man Mangok Mathiang will be the Hornets’ two-way players for next season.
Forward Treveon Graham’s salary (about $1.3 million) is not guaranteed, but based on how he played in Orlando Summer League, he’s on track to make the regular-season roster again.
With the roster essentially built, a projection of the Hornets’ depth chart:
Starter: Kemba Walker. Backup: Michael Carter-Williams. Third-string: Julyan Stone.
Analysis: Walker is back from offseason knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, following his first All-Star season. He’s clearly this team’s best player. Carter-Williams was once Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia, but has passed through two other rosters since. Stone last played in the NBA in 2013-14 (Toronto Raptors).
Carter-Williams and Stone provide good size at 6-6, but if Walker were seriously injured, the Hornets would be in major trouble.
Starter: Nic Batum. Backup: Malik Monk. Other reserves: Jeremy Lamb and Dwayne Bacon.
Analysis: Batum is coming off a disappointing season, in which he shot a career-low 40.3 percent from the field. Rookie Monk, the 11th overall pick in June’s draft, missed summer league with an ankle sprain. Lamb had career highs in points (9.7 per game) and rebounds (4.3). Rookie Bacon played well at summer league.
Monk is a gifted scorer, but he’s undersized for an NBA shooting guard at 6-3, so defense could be a challenge.
Starter: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Backup: Batum or Lamb. Other reserves: Treveon Graham and Bacon.
Analysis: Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t quite returned to his form prior to two shoulder surgeries. Batum is good at keeping the second unit organized, usually when Kidd-Gilchrist is on the bench.
Graham was impressive in summer league, but that isn’t the same as NBA basketball.
Starter: Marvin Williams or Frank Kaminsky. Other options: Johnny O’Bryant, Kidd-Gilchrist, Graham.
Analysis: Williams has been the starter the past two seasons. He’s the superior defender to Kaminsky. Kaminsky is bigger and versatile offensively. The Hornets retained O’Bryant through his guarantee date for next season, so he’s their fifth big man. MKG and Graham can play this spot when the Hornets go small.
Williams might be a better fit with the starters because he doesn’t need the ball to be effective to the extent Kaminsky does.
Starter: Dwight Howard. Backup: Cody Zeller. Other options: Kaminsky, O’Bryant.
Analysis: Howard is the rim-protector the Hornets lacked, and he has never failed to average a double-double in each of his 13 NBA seasons. Zeller should be among the best backup centers in the league, after starting last season. Kaminsky, at 7-foot, played some center last season. At 6-9, O’Bryant doesn’t have ideal center height.
Assuming neither Howard nor Zeller gets seriously hurt, this should be the Hornets’ strongest position. However, Zeller missed 20 games last season, and the Hornets went 3-17 in those games.